J500 Media and the Environment


Cordley students whet their appetites for local food by jmuselmann

Excitement was in the air today at Cordley Elementary. It was the familiar, childlike vigor the comes from trying something new, and it was shared by both adults and kids alike as they filed into the gymnasium — not the cafeteria — for their first-ever locally sourced lunch. The term is “farm-to-school,” and judging from the content faces forking up the lasagna, it hit the spot.

The lunch was the culmination of a week of learning for the students, which spanned teaching about the benefits to local and organic foods to fields trips picking strawberries and gathering eggs from local farms (both of which were popular in the salad bar). In surveying the participants of the grand experiment about the typical lunch fare in the cafeteria, I got a sea of downward thumbs and “baaaad.” Fourth-grader Ainsley Agnew said it was just “grossness,” while on my other side was Pria Jean-Baptiste, also a fourth-grader, giving me a minutely detailed lesson about how to make the pasta from scratch. I should have taken better notes.

But the satisfaction didn’t come just from the good food, which included vegetarian and beef lasagna, bread sticks, salad, Iwig Family Dairy milk and a strawberry rhubarb confection, but also in the hard work to plan for it. Linda Cottin, the event’s organizer, said the meal had been in the works since November.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of community support, and I am happy that there’s a way to do this without all the work and make this an everyday function in the schools,” she said.

Rick Martin, head chef for the event (and at Free State Brewing Co.), agreed, saying that “After having this model, it will be easier” to accomplish in other schools and on a more permanent basis. That indeed was the consensus in the organizers’ post-lunch discussion, noting that Lawrence has the nearby farms and public interest to achieve it.

In a sense, the setting was typical: rambunctious kids at lunchtime, cracking jokes and playing with their food before politely running outside for recess. But it wasn’t. For the grown-ups — smiling volunteers and paparazzi abuzz to capture the moment — it was an accomplishment in the face of convention. Lindsey Kellenbarger, a teacher, also brought her camera for the momentous occasion, knowing the potential impact this seemingly ordinary lunch could have on the students.

“I got a kid to eat a turnip that I didn’t think would. That’s exciting,” she said.

—Jacob M.



Discerning service learning by jmuselmann

Sula Teller, food manager at The Merc, just after our interview.

Up until recently, it was difficult to put the scope of my involvement with the Douglas County Food Policy Council in perspective. Our class, Media & the Environment, has been a fusion of journalism and environmental studies departments, and each week we have been blogging about food as a way of getting our feet wet  with both these issues.

But a big part of our class was also to work for the newly formed food council as an interlocutor, surveying different stakeholders in the community as well as Lawrence residents to report back our findings — along with some research — to the council. The goal was to the “What,” the “Why” and the “How” of a local food system for Lawrence. Our group tackled the “Why” aspect.

In going out and interviewing local stakeholders as well as residents, I really started to realize how much of an impact the DCFPC could have, and how important these issues are to everyone, whether they take the time to think about it or not. Simply the act of putting everything else on hold and sitting down to talk about everyday things that most people don’t pay much attention to made me realize the pervasiveness of food attitudes that permeate other aspects of life. Calling attention to these seemingly mundane details about their work, food, and sustainability helped me see the importance of the DCFPC, and also why I had initially written it off as something bureaucratic whose goals I already had the gist of.

Wrong! It’s now apparent to me that the DCFPC is striving to be as vital as the issues it is fighting for. It really hit home when I spent a day in the Section 8 affordable housing district in north Lawrence. There I got to see and hear about how food accessibility (or rather the lack thereof) is directly affecting the lives of entire families. Hearing about families’ struggles made abstract goals of the DCFPC become very real, pertinent and necessary.

All in all, I’ve loved working for the Douglas County Food Policy Council. Working in small groups with a specific goal was rewarding. It felt good to know that we were making a difference and doing work for a task force that really needed our help. That kind of learning and satisfaction transcends earning grades in a grade book — it is immersive, substantial and can meaningfully affect the lives of many people for the better.

—Jacob Muselmann



Eating better, thinking better by Lauren Cunningham

When I first started this class in January, I couldn’t really define “organic”. Like many others, I’ve always been told by my mother to eat always eat my veggies and try to eat healthy in general. But until I took this class, I never really stopped to look at the food I was putting in my body.

— from flickr.com

I certainly had no idea what “local food” meant either, but the idea never really seemed that foreign of a concept. Growing up I’ve eaten vegetables grown in my grandpa’s garden or meat from family’s friend’s farms. I think, in general, Kansans don’t see local food so much as a food movement as they see it as common sense because of the agricultural setting in which we live. Yet despite where we live and the food-growing opportunities surrounding us, we still don’t know where most of the food we eat comes from. This idea is what I liked learning about and exploring most in class.

Because both of my parents are teachers, I can appreciate when what I learn in the classroom is applied to the “real world.” And especially in a service learning class, I was able to apply information to what we’ve been working on in our group projects.

I think it comes naturally as a journalism student to enjoy meeting and interviewing people in the community in which I live. But it was particularly rewarding to listen to people like Rick Martin, the executive chef at Free State Brewing Co., or Patty Metzler, a medical dietitian at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, talk about and confirm the importance of local food in Lawrence. I’m most inspired by others who are passionate and love what they do, and by being able to talk to people who get what it means to grow food and to know where food comes from, it really has influenced me to ask more questions about my food. It also felt really good to help the Douglas County Food Policy Council learn more ways in which they can evolve within Lawrence and hopefully develop a local food system.

This class more than anything has really helped me to mature both as a consumer and as a writer. Writing a blog post each week has shown me how to truly invite others to conversations rather than shutting them out of talking about important issues. With all of the information that has been thrown at us, I also tend to question things more and look at where certain information comes from. I’m definitely not completely eco-friendly or “green” all of the time, but I’m constantly thinking about these things each time I buy something.

Most importantly, I’m not as afraid to really examine why I do what I do or why I spend my money on certain things and not others. I now take a harsher look at what I do, which at first, was hard to do. But I’ve grown to like being more critical of my decision-making. By continually looking at what I choose to spend my time, money and energy on, I can keep myself in check with how I want others to see me.

— Lauren Cunningham



When local isn’t close by by jmuselmann
Source: sustainable-gardening-tips.com

When Mom decided to splurge, everyone was always thankful. As kids, the best barometer for us was a Boboli pizza crust sticking out of the grocery bags she brought home. Don’t ask me why, but we loved it. It must have been something about assembling it at home — I will always remember waxing on the pouched sauce with a wooden spoon. And then there were the times without, the times when Mom prudently decided to go somewhere else for groceries, somewhere the Boboli wasn’t. I never asked why, but I always assumed it was something related to money — or lack thereof — one of those things my kiddie-brain had just enough suspicious grasp of to know not to ask. The point is, I appreciated her going out of her way, for whatever reason, for good food (hey, I was 7).

There has been some flack given to people who drive long distances to support their local farmers markets. The carbon footprint created, they say, makes your good intentions go up in smoke as you tut across the highway. But there’s more to consider than arriving from point a to b, a new billow of fumes, and that foregone picturesque stroll to the village market.

1. Everyone has the right to make choices about their personal nutrition. Locally grown and produced foods generally have less additives, preservatives, and other-worldly chemicals that extend shelf life. And it’s almost conventional knowledge that the taste of fresh local produce is superior to far-away alternatives (which basically get a spray-and-dye job at the salon). And who knows — that could be the only reason some buy local foods. And it’s just as valid a reason as any other.

2. Now more than ever, dollar votes matter for the food industry. We are in the midst of a pivotal time for the food sector right now: Huge companies are seeking to monopolize the food they grow, own the technology they use to do it, and manipulate the people involved all to get the cheapest cost, in what has warped into a hell-bent fervor to undercut everyone else and an insatiable lust for making money. Local food systems need our help. Why should it matter who buys it?

3. Finally, with a greater pull, farmers markets can have a farther-reaching influence on their communities. Let’s stop and think for a moment. Suburbs are notorious for being insular, and yet when suburbanites branch out,  they are often greeted with the same attitude and a bitter smile. Food and the environmental issues do not belong to one particular group of people or party, and if we are really sincere about the cause, we will encourage their support, as annoying as their cars or kids might be.

Lawrence has addressed this issue and is making it easier for west Lawrence beginning May 6 (the other two, which fall on Saturday and Tuesday, remain near downtown). Though the market has made strides in making local food more accessible, Lawrence — any community — can always do more (just look at the comments in the links). We as individuals have to do our part to facilitate openness and community. After all, supporting movements, making a change and doing what’s right always involve going out of one’s way, and that’s exactly what many are trying to do. So let’s support them.

—Jacob Muselmann



Reduce, Reuse, Retackle by jmuselmann

image fromgardenmandy.com

Environmentalism nowadays may seem new-fangled and trendy, but recycling, its old-school call to action, has character and appeal in its simplicity. It’s about as ubiquitous as the three Rs are in school, and like reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, it’s thought to be good for everyone. But even this durable cause can get messy, and when it does, it ain’t so wholesome anymore.

A few days ago I spoke with Jeff Joseph of Jeff’s Curbside Recycling, one of the smaller-scale operations in Lawrence, Kan. Well, maybe the smallest: his company consists of a man with a truck. He was driving around the city, tending to his customer’s pre-sorted trash when in two words from across the phone line he casually shattered my perception of the untouchable triad of folded green arrows: Recycling contamination. Can you even put those words together? (It’s when different substances are accidentally recycled into one material.)

Breaking down in the soil to later become a natural reincarnation is one thing, but what about when there are particles of plastic in my recycled milk carton? Not only is that disturbing (move over, BPA), but it’s also expensive. It’s such a problem in the city of Fresno that perpetrators—whether intentional or not—collect fines on the third offense. San Francisco is also trying to bag up the problem because it renders thousands of tons of initially recycled material a waste, suspended in your newspaper or whatever else was in the same recycling facility when it was ground up.

Joseph said “single stream” companies, which pick up all recyclables together to be sorted later, were more prone to commingling sins. The EPA has acknowledged the problem and established guidelines—but we all know what that means (and doesn’t mean in the case of toxic waste, a much scarier implication).

Deffenbaugh, which happens to be Lawrence’s only single-stream pickup and largest recycler, said it made pickup more convenient and minimized the cost because sorting was automated. According to the company, about 4 percent of the total volume received is extracted by hand before the recyclables are sorted. Here’s what that system typically looks like:

But are many companies with green intentions missing the point not in what they are doing but in how they are doing it? Must this movement yield to cheapness and efficiency for its growth? Does the business of recycling need to adopt the corporate world’s devout faith in the ability of machines to undo our laziness, or can we expect people to sort the soda cans from the beer bottles? As the green movement spreads its wings, people are gaining more incentives to be sustainable each day, but the often-clumsy to go green easily arrives at growth is costly—in dollars, the very resources we are trying to renew, and possibly our health. The ends don’t make the means irrelevant, since we are, after all, going in a circle.

—Jacob M.



Farmers never really retire by Lauren Cunningham

Coming from Clyde, Kan., my mom has always told me some interesting tales about her time spent on farms.

From cleaning chickens to helping deliver calves, I’ve heard my share of, and have been a bit grossed out by, these stories. But I recently asked my mom more about farming in our family.

My grandma, my boyfriend, me and my grandpa at Coronado Heights Park in Lindsborg, Kan. Grandma and Grandpa always have the best food at their house, including veggies grown by Grandpa.

I had always just assumed my mom grew up on a farm, but she explained that it was a little bit different than that. They had a small number of chickens and had a vegetable garden (which sounds like a farm to me), but they didn’t have any crops. My grandparents, my mom and my uncles also helped other farms in their community regularly. My grandpa helped process chickens for local farms — I’m not quite sure if I want to know what that means — while my mom said that she would help gather eggs or clean chickens.

She said she also thought my grandpa liked to garden as a way of therapy from this job at Northern Natural Gas where he would work in extremely hot and stressful environments. I think it’s interesting that even today growing food is still proven to be therapeutic.

Between my grandpa’s gardening and hunting and my grandma’s canning and baking, my mom said their family was pretty self-sufficient. Looking back she said she realizes how much cheaper and healthier that way of living was, but at the time, she said it’s just what they did.

“That’s just what we did,” — she says this a lot when she talks about her farming experiences. I think that because farming becomes such a tradition and a way of life for some families, no one really questions how healthy or sustainable it is to grow food for a family. It really just becomes second-nature for some families to decide to farm.

Since I can remember, my grandpa has always grown some sort of vegetable, usually tomatoes or potatoes. He still grows vegetables even though he and my grandma don’t live in a farming community anymore. My mom can no longer eat a store-bought tomato because she says it doesn’t taste right, and I’m beginning to be the same way. Veggies that Grandpa grows taste way better than anything I’ve ever bought.

My mom still has some farmland in Concordia, too. She has 360 acres of rotating crops of soybeans, milo or wheat. She told me that she is never going to sell it.

Like she always tells me, “Farmers never really retire.”

— Lauren Cunningham



Escape from Egypt, Blow out candles by bendcohen

The end of March is a very special time for me.  The weather is nice, mid-terms are finished, and, most importantly, it is when I celebrate my birthday.  On Tuesday, March 30th of this year, I will turn 23.  This will be my first prime-numbered age in four years, and will also be the first time I can remember my birthday coinciding with Pesach.

Take away the diapers, and this was surprisingly accurate. Image found on Google (the search engine, not my hometown).

What is “Pesach”, you ask?  It is more commonly known as Passover, one of the most significant holidays in the Jewish faith.  I grew up celebrating this holiday (“holiweek” would be more accurate, though it sounds tremendously awkward) every spring, a difficult feat in a place like Topeka, KS (known today as “Google, KS”).  It is challenging because, like most observances in my religion, it involves a dietary restriction.  In this case, to recognize how Israelites escaping Egyptian bondage did not leave time for their bread to rise when leaving, we do not eat anything leavened.  Mostly, this means avoiding bread products.  In elementary through high school, this was extremely challenging, because school cafeterias in a community with very few Jews tend not to accommodate us too well.  Lunch every day featured rolls, or pizza, or pasta (considered leavened because of the effects boiling water has in the cooking process), and I couldn’t touch one of them.  In high school, I had the alternative of a salad bar, but it was of incredibly poor quality.

This year, with Passover and my birthday happening at the same time, I am presented with an even greater conundrum.  I am used to not having a traditional birthday cake, as tradition in the Cohen household has been, for many years, for my mother to prepare one of her famous cheesecakes, but this still puts a limit on what else I can have on March 30th.  It will be the second night of Passover, meaning there will be a Seder (a combination of a meal and service), and while I am not always the best Jew in the world, I try not to miss those.  My preference on my birthday is generally to meet friends at a favorite restaurant, then go out for drinks.  Sadly, beer includes yeast, the most well-known of leavening agents, and if I were to stick to the rules adamantly, this would be off-limits.

I already know that I am going to play a bit loose with the rules for this unusual occasion.  I’ve never kept kosher, so I try to follow guidelines for holidays, basically as a way of compensating.  Even then, I find the occasional loophole.  A favorite over Passover is to invoke the small amount of Sephardic heritage in my family, which frees me up from avoiding starches all together.  There is always a little bit of guilt involved (cue up any stereotype you want about “Jewish guilt”, because you probably heard it from one of us).  But even if it’s just to have a few beers and some chips on my birthday, I am making a special exception to the rule.

~Ben C.